How Can One Person Change Congress?

Rep.-George-Miller-Town-Hal

 Can one average citizen change Congress? No. But can one politically engaged citizen change Congress? Yes.

One Person Cannot Change Congress

I attended one of the town hall meetings my representative in Congress, Rep. George Miller, held today. It was the third of three back-to-back meetings he’d held that morning. I arrived late. Surprisingly, he hadn’t.

When I entered the school multi-purpose room, he was updating the standing-room-only crowd on what was happening in D.C. regarding the economy, budget cuts, minimum wage, immigration reform, education, and Obamacare (AKA, the Affordable Care Act). While Miller was partway through talking about, I think, Obamacare, a man from the back of the room shouted, “You lie!”

Miller paused and let the man voice his opinion. Miller then tried to go on with his update. The man again shouted, “You lie” and continued venting his beliefs.

The crowd grew restless. For the next several minutes various audience members tried to get the man to quiet down by shouting, “Let him (Miller) talk!”, “We came to hear him talk, not you.”, “You talk for yourself, not us.”, etc.

Eventually, the crowd’s displeasure with the man quieted him down. Miller went on with his update and told the crowd there would be time to comment or ask him questions about the things they were interested in.  The Affordable Care Act, the economy, foreign aid, etc.

Did the shouting man change Congress? No. He didn’t even change the mind of the one person in Congress he was talking to. What he did do, though, was make a lot of people frustrated and angry. He was exercising his First Amendment right. Good. But it took several minutes and the crowd’s ire before he was willing to let others exercise their First Amendment rights. Not good.

People wonder why Congress acts so childish. Because Congress is made of human beings who each have their own beliefs (sometimes strongly held beliefs), goals, viewpoints, aspirations, and personality. Just like the folks in the school multi-purpose room I was in today. Two or three hundred people with their own individual beliefs, opinions, concerns, and objectives. And one who was convinced Miller was lying and was willing to stop the meeting until he got whatever it was that he wanted. Miller to stop believing his own beliefs and adopt the one’s beliefs? I don’t know. The man didn’t say what he wanted, other than for Miller to stop lying.

RESULTS Changing Congress

After the meeting I talked with a women beside me who’d asked Miller how she could change Congress. I had hoped he would say, “Ask that man standing next to you.” He didn’t. After the meeting I did.

I told her about the group I volunteer with. The one that’s been called, “the most effective lobby in Congress”. I told her about RESULTS and invited her attend one of my group’s meetings.

While talking with the woman, one of the volunteers in my RESULTS group, Sharon Solstice, joined us. A couple more people joined the discussion and I left. I wanted to give a copy of a recently published letter to the editor I’d written to Miller. I ended up giving the copy to one of his local staffers and rejoined Sharon and the group talking about changing Congress.

Shouting at members of Congress, telling them they’re wrong and they lie is not the way to change Congress. RESULTS volunteers have, however, changed Congress. We’ve gotten Congress to appropriate billions of dollars for anti-poverty programs that otherwise would not have been funded.

RESULTS volunteers are average citizens. There’s nothing special about RESULTS volunteers–except for one thing. One thing that makes us different from average citizens. RESULTS volunteers are politically engaged in a way that makes us far better at influencing Congress. RESULTS volunteers take the time to learn about the issues that concern them; how Congress works; how to become effective grassroots, citizen lobbyists; and we spend some of our time lobbying.

Why are we so effective? By doing the following with representatives and senators from both political parties:

  • Developing personal relationships with them through face-to-face meetings
  • Presenting information and listening to them in a respectful way
  • Doing the same with their staff members
  • Calling their D.C. and district offices to ask they take specific actions with specific bills, letters, committees, and Congress leaders
  • Keeping in contact with them throughout the year
  • Writing letters to them
  • Voting for or against them when they’re up for reelection.

Of that entire list, most citizens will only do the last one or two things. But RESULTS volunteers also 

  • Develop relationships with those in the community who influence members of Congress
  • Generate media such as editorials, op-eds, letters to the editor, radio interviews, etc.
  • Talk with others in the community
  • Organize letter and postcard writing meetings with other citizens

All to educate others about our issues and urge them to advocate for our positions with Congress.

One Person Can Change Congress

Remember when I wrote that Miller told the crowd he would open the meeting up for questions and comments about things the they were interested in? Miller was looking at me when he said foreign aid.

I’ve met with him two or three times in his district office with my RESULTS group and three or four times in town hall meetings over the years. I think he saw me at the meeting today, remembered my interest in foreign aid, and mentioned foreign aid because he saw me standing near the back of the room.

I and the members of my RESULTS group have gotten him to support legislation that reduces poverty overseas. Because of Miller’s leadership position on the Education and the Workforce committee, RESULTS volunteers nationwide sometimes ask their representatives to talk with Miller and urge him to support particular legislation his committee oversees.

In a democracy, even a federal democracy like our own, one person by him or herself doesn’t change anything. But the accumulation of individual votes past a tipping point does. Is the vote that pushes the total over the tipping point more valuable than the first vote? What would happen if the first vote went the other way?

RESULTS volunteers have consistently gotten enough votes to forward policies and programs that reduce hunger and poverty for over 30 years. Each RESULTS volunteer has connected with their own political power and made a difference.

I hope the man who yelled “You lie!”, and the many others in the room who wondered how they can influence Congress, learns how RESULTS volunteers have done it. The U.S. needs a well-informed, well-engaged citizenry for our nation to work for the benefit of us all.

Does One Person Make a Difference?

Most certainly Yes!

It’s been over a year since I last posted in this blog, but I readan e-mail yesterday that motivated me to post tonight. Before I write about that e-mail though, I want to quickly tie some loose strings.

In my last post I said that I was fundraising for RESULTS by taking part in the annual Friends and Family Campaign. Last year I raised over $405 for RESULTS. I took part in this year’s Friends and Family Campaign as well. The campaign officially ended on April 31, but the web-based donation page will remain active until the end of this Friday. So far, I’ve raised $395. A little less than last year, but I’m hoping this post will inspire some last second contributions.

I think the news I’m about to share is actually more important than any additional contributions (welcome as those would be). A couple months ago, RESULTS began a new campaign in our global health work. The campaign is to raise awareness of the importance of children getting sufficient micronutrients early in their life. Studies published in the last few years have identified that fetuses and children in their first 1000 days of life, basically from conception to two years old, especially need micronutrients in order to grow into physically and mentally healthy children and eventually adults.

If necessary micronutrients are lacking the effects include death and stunting. Some 2.5 million children under the age of five die each year from undernutrition. An estimated 165 million children survive undernutrition, but many of those suffer from stunting. If the undernutrition is extreme and early in life, the stunting is permanent. According to the World Bank’s Scaling Up Nutrition: What Will It Cost? 2010 study such stunting can reduce a person’s lifetime earnings by 10% and, if widespread in a country, can reduce the country’s GDP by  2-3%.

Right now, the U.S. gives less than 1% of its foreign development aid (which itself is less than 1% of the total federal budget) to programs that ensure pregnant mothers and children get sufficient micronutrients to prevent death and stunting. RESULTS volunteers across the nation and lobbying their representatives and senators to prioritize higher funding for international nutrition programs. And this is where the e-mail I saw yesterday comes into play.

Mark Coats is a volunteer RESULTS group leader in Austin, Texas. His representative is Congressman McCaul, a fifth-term Republican representing the 10th district. Mark wrote to McCaul’s staffer in charge of foreign affairs to ask that Rep. McCaul sign a dear colleague letter supporting the U.S. taking a leadership role in global nutrition. The staffer wrote back:

Mark, I have a question about point number one in the letter: “(1) Pledging support for plans in poor countries to strengthen and expand nutrition interventions.” Does this imply more U.S. funding for such programs? That is how I read it. In this time of austerity, it would be very difficult to argue for more funding.

Mark was understandably pessimistic about getting his representative to sign onto the letter and show his support for more funding of nutrition programs. But, and this is why I’m so proud of RESULTS, Mark didn’t give up. He wrote the following e-mail back to the staffer.

Good question. What the pledge does is give voice to our priorities and our values. I believe Americans value life and Americans value children.

As a father who raised three daughters, their needs and ‘nutrition’ were top priority, even when money was tight. During the recession when I lost my job and my income was decimated I still supported my youngest, Kristen, to complete her degree at UT Dallas. Her life could not wait.

For the 2.5 million children who die each year, due directly to malnutrition, their lives can’t wait either. When one of every four children worldwide is impacted intellectually and economically by malnutrition, preventing the cycle of poverty from being broken, the world cannot wait.

I understand it is a difficult task for Congress is to find the balance between competing priorities. However, when we look at what the U.S. is proposing to invest in addressing malnutrition for FY14, it is less than $100 million. That is less than 1% of all development assistance!

So it is not about asking for “more”. The pledge is about a common sense allotment of resources to address the challenges we face.

I urge Congressman McCaul to support ending malnutrition and demonstrate bold leadership for values all American’s hold dear – life and children. Would you please explain my request to him and ask if he will co-sign the letter and tell me what his response is?

Take care,

Mark Coats

 Mark wrote the letter based on information he’d gotten through RESULTS. RESULTS got the information based on information provided by the World Bank, the Copenhagen Consensus, and other international development organizations. RESULTS helped Mark learn the facts and helped him learn how to effectively lobby government.

How effective was Mark’s advocacy? The next day, May 28, Mark learned that Rep. McCaul agreed to sign the dear colleague letter. I’ve roomed with Mark several times at RESULTS International Conferences. He’s a thin, slightly smaller than average man with a humble, thoughtful disposition. He’s the kind of person you could pass on the street and not remember.

Yet, a couple days ago, he got a Texas Republican to connect with his core values and realize that “shrinking the government” does not preclude making smart investments in international health programs. A couple days ago, Mark reminded me what RESULTS is all about–teaching average citizens how to reconnect with their own political power on behalf of those with the least amount of political power, those at the very bottom of the economic ladder.

I believe part of our purpose in life is to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Thanks Mark and RESULTS for showing me how.

I Am a Fundraiser

On Monday, I got my first (and so far, only) contribution to RESULTS. A member of my scuba diving club contributed $100. After making his donation, he told me something about the donor page I wasn’t aware of.

Clicking the Donation link opens a secured web page but the URL is https://friendraising.towercare.com and to my friend that understandably implied his contribution would go to a company called Towercare rather than RESULTS. That caused my friend to pause and reconsider whether he should contribute or not. He’d contributed to RESULTS a couple years ago when I last participated in a Friends and Family Campaign, and he’d learned about RESULTS from me and his own research. Towercare, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity.

After weighing his decision for a few days, he decided to go ahead and contribute. Thankfully, he told me of his dilemma so now I can warn other potential contributors who may be hesitating for the same reason.

Towercare is the company that RESULTS has partnered with for this Friends and Family Campaign. Towercare provides the website fundraising technology that RESULTS is trying out with this campaign. As I’ve written before, I can see a lot of potential benefits with web-based contribution campaigns, but I’ve personally experienced technical problems with the technology and, with my friend’s comments, now see another problem that needs to be addressed better.

So how is the campaign going? The campaign is in its last week. On Tuesday, March 20th, I learned we fundraisers as a whole passed the 50% mark toward our goal of raising $30,000. Normally, the last minute push gets RESULTS past or much closer to its goals–whether the goal is reaching a certain dollar amount of fundraising or getting a target number of members of Congress to support a particular bill or sign onto a “Dear Colleague” letter. How we’re doing right now, I don’t know.

I’m disheartened that I’m so far from my personal goal of raising $1000, but glad that I’m the cause of RESULTS getting at least $100 more than it would have had I had not joined the campaign. I’m reminded of a quotation I read today from one of ice hockey’s greatest players, Wayne Gretsky. He said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

Tomorrow, I’m going to send out one more e-mail to warn my friends and family about the Towercare issue, remind them the campaign ends in a couple days, ask them to visit my contribution page if they haven’t already, and thank them for considering making a contribution.

And that reminds me of something I heard many years ago when I was on a RESULTS training call about working with the media. Those of us on the call were counselled that when dealing with an editor, the most important thing wasn’t getting the editor to write an editorial in support of our issues. The most important thing was to further our relationship with the editor.

Since then, I’ve tried to keep that objective in mind when I contact editorial writers and congressional aides. It’s actually good advice to keep in mind when dealing with everybody. Advice I need to remind myself of.

I’m Trying to Be a Fundraiser

It’s amazing how fast time moves sometimes. In my previous post I wrote I hoped to post again in two or three days and include a link to my RESULTS contribution page. Well, due to multiple technical issues and shifting priorities it took a couple weeks to get my personal RESULTS contribution page and a Contra Costa Team page published. It took a few more days to publish this post with the link to my personal RESULTS contribution page.

On Sunday, March 18, I sent two e-mail about my contribution page. The first e-mail was to my family and friends and included a request to read the personal stories I wrote and published on my personal page and the team page and to consider contributing to RESULTS if it made sense to them. The second e-mail went out to members of several business referral groups to which I belong with the request that they forward the e-mail to people they thought would be interested.

Once the e-mails went out late Sunday night, I thought the hard part was over. I thought at least a few of the people I sent the e-mails to would be moved by my stories and immediately accept my offer to fund RESULTS. I was wrong. Of the 47 or so friends and family and 69 business referral group members, none have contributed or passed the e-mail on to someone else who contributed to RESULTS through my page. While my goal remains to raise $1000 for RESULTS, I’m chagrined to see that with only a week and a half left in the fundraising campaign, I’ve raised exactly $0.00.

I was warned that it would likely take several messages to people before they would take action. But I thought that the ease of contributing through a website would entice at least a few people to take immediate action. I was wrong.

While I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the dearth of donations, I was mentally prepared to send out a few reminders. After getting the e-mails out last Sunday, I purposely waited until today to blog about my contribution page, so this post would serve as a second opportunity for at least some of my friends and family to contribute.

I think I’ll send another e-mail out to my friends and family this coming Sunday. I’m a little hesitant, however, about sending another e-mail out to my business colleagues. In a meeting with some of them today, I got the impression from one person my initial e-mail was unwanted.

The initial e-mail to my business colleagues was carefully worded to avoid asking them to contribute directly and instead only requested they forward the e-mail to any they knew who might be interested. If I do send them another e-mail it would be similarly worded.

Any thoughts or comments from my loyal followers on whether to send another e-mail to my business colleagues?

I’m a Reluctant Fundraiser

It’s been quite a while since I last posted and I’m afraid to let much more time pass, so I’m writing what will probably be a ramble rather than a carefully thought out and edited essay. Another difference is that while most of my previous posts have emphasized the activist part of me; for better or worse this post is emphasizing the reluctant side.

A couple weeks ago, RESULTS officially launched a fundraising campaign called the Friends and Family Campaign. Much of the work RESULTS does, especially the advocacy (i.e., lobbying) work is funded directly or indirectly through RESULTS volunteers. Many RESULTS volunteers contribute on a monthly basis and/or help put on various events to raise money to pay staff salaries and other operating expenses. I think I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that RESULTS is actually two organizations–at least from a tax accounting point of view. Both are non-profits, but only one qualifies for tax-deductible donations.

RESULTS Educational Fund (REF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to (surprise) education. Specifically, educating the public, media, and government about poverty-related issues like microfinance and Head Start. Donations to REF are tax deductible and consequently, REF satisfies a key need for foundations and the wealthy who need tax write-offs.

RESULTS, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to influencing Congress to support specific poverty-reducing policies and legislation. Since the purpose of RESULTS, Inc. is to lobby, the IRS does not allow contributions to be tax deductible. However, because RESULTS, Inc. supports direct lobbying by volunteers and staff, it has a significant multiplying affect. Because we have directly asked Congress to vote for particular bills and have requested increased budget and appropriations amounts for specific programs, over the years we have shifted literally billions of tax-payer dollars into poverty reductions programs that really are reducing poverty rather than being lost in the shell game that is often foreign aid. I emphasize foreign aid, because several years ago, I learned that much of the funding appropriated for foreign aid never leaves the U.S. border. That should be the subject of another post, though.

I won’t pretend to understand how RESULTS staff know when to charge their time to REF or to RESULTS, Inc., but I trust they carefully follow guidelines specified by the IRS in doing so. What I do know, is that a substantial amount of funding for both sides of RESULTS (and in particular, RESULTS, Inc.) comes from RESULTS volunteers.

The previously mentioned Friends and Family Campaign is one of the ways volunteers raise money for RESULTS. As you might surmise from the title, in the campaign RESULTS volunteers tell their friends and family members about RESULTS, what they as volunteers and the organization as a whole have been up to, what kinds of results RESULTS is achieving, and–most importantly–invite their friends and family to contribute to RESULTS.

For me, inviting people to help fund RESULTS is one of the most difficult things I do as a volunteer. I like writing letters to the editor. I like going to Washington DC to learn about poverty, poverty-reducing tools, and sharing that knowledge with Congressional staffers. But, I don’t like asking my friends and family to donate to RESULTS.

It’s strange. I totally believe in what RESULTS is doing and has done. I know without a shadow of a doubt that RESULTS is largely the main behind-the-scenes reason that “only” 23,000 children are dying each day because of poverty rather than the 40,000 that died each day in the early 1990s. RESULTS was primarily the reason immunization funding was significantly increased during the 1980s and beyond. From what I understand, that’s the single largest cause of the reduction in child deaths since the 1970s or so. RESULTS has been the lead organization responsible for expanding the use of microlending and microfinance (like savings and health insurance accounts for the very poor) around the world. Because of RESULTS-led efforts, now over a million families have access to tiny loans and services to help them start businesses and save for emergencies.

So why is asking my friends and family to contribute to RESULTS so hard for me? I’m not sure. I suspect it’s because a significant part of who I am is tied to RESULTS. I’m a RESULTS volunteer because it’s the most effective organization I know to enable me to help those less fortunate than myself improve their economic standing. I think I have a subconscious, emotional response that activates when a friend or family member declines to contribute to RESULTS. It’s like that person is denying the value of RESULTS and by extension me when they decline to fund.

Consciously, I know there are many reasons why my friends and family members would not fund RESULTS and still be completely in support of RESULTS and my volunteering with it. Soon after my last lay off, my wife and I reduced and then stopped our monthly contributions to RESULTS. I salve myself with the idea that since we’re no longer financial supporters, I’m still contributing time and energy to RESULTS and so supporting it that way.

Over the years, I’ve learned to disassociate people’s decision whether to fund RESULTS from their level of respect for me. For whatever reason, however, I find that especially at the beginning of a fundraising campaign, my fear of asking people to support RESULTS, and by extension me, rises.

It’s a fear I’ve battle before and won against, so I’m not too worried about it now. I’m excited that this year, the Friends and Family Campaign includes the capability of using team and individual web pages to facilitate asking for and tracking contributions to REF. It still requires a few hours, for me anyway, to write some content, post a picture or two, and make some phones calls, but I know this year will be easier than in previous years because of the web page and more fun.

However, I’ve yet to really take the first step in carrying out my own portion of the Friends and Family Campaign. It’s much easier to keep putting off until the never-arriving tomorrow the writing and the calling necessary to support the campaign. In the next two or three days, however, I hope to publish another post with a link to my as-yet-to-be-readied contribution site. I’m hoping this post will motivate me to invest the time and effort needed to realize that hope.

So, stay tuned and cheer me on.

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

It’s been quite a while since I wrote the last post, so I’m writing this one before another month passes by. Since it’s still January and this is my first post of 2012, I’d like to look back at what my Contra Costa County RESULTS group accomplished last year. Then I’ll write about one of the goals I have for 2012.

Looking Backward

I’m the leader of a small group of RESULTS volunteers that meet once a month in California’s Contra Costa County to write letters and advocate for cost-efficient and effective international development programs. In 2011, the volunteers in my group got six letters to the editor published in the Contra Costa Times newspaper. Five of the letters supported international disease control and one supported international primary education. We wrote the editor probably three times that many letters, but six were published. You can read the letters by clicking on the link to the San Francisco Area RESULTS Media Generated in 2011 page and looking for the Contra Costa Times entries. That page also shows the letters to the editor and editorials that were published in the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and Oakland Tribune.

In 2011, members of my group had a face-to-face meeting with Representative George Miller and with Rep. John Garamendi in their district offices.

We got Rep. John Garamendi and Rep. Jerry McNerney to support the Education For All Act of 2011. We had success in getting Reps. Miller, McNerney, and Garamendi to sign a letter to USAID Administrator, Dr. Shah, in support of the U.S. making a $450 million funding pledge over the course of three years to the GAVI Alliance. Other RESULTS groups across the nation were successful in getting their representatives to also sign onto the letter. Finally, we were able to get Reps. Miller and Garamendi to sign a Dear Colleague letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging them to appropriate $1.05 billion to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Not bad for a group of six volunteers.

Looking Forward

My group is still planning what we’d like to accomplish in 2012, so I can’t write about the group goals. I can, however, write about one of my own goals.

That goal is to have 10 active people in my group. Ideally, some would be younger than me, definitely more energetic, extroverted, and passionate about making a difference. At 49 years of age, I’m the youngest in my group and have been since I joined it in 1997 or so.

I’d like to have new members so we can tap into new energy and new networks of family, friends, and contacts. Having a larger group would enable us to improve our fundraising ability, increase our media prowess, and enlarge our ability to connect and interact with like-minded members of the local community.

Expanding the group would also mean that we’re successfully enabling others to realize their own political power and make a difference in the quality of their lives and in the lives of the roughly 1.7 billion people in absolute poverty–those most bereft of resources, self-respect, opportunity, education, and health.

I know volunteering in RESULTS has profoundly affected my life. This year I want to challenge myself to extend that gift to others.

A Promise Made Is a Debt Unpaid

In the poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee“, the Canadian poet Robert A. Service wrote, “A promise made is a debt unpaid.” The poem is the tale of a Yukon musher keeping a promise he made to cremate his friend rather than let him be buried in the ice and snow.

I came across the quotation while preparing an announcement for my RESULTS Contra Costa County group meeting. I’ve gotten in the habit of starting my group’s monthly letter meeting with an inspirational quotation or two and I think the one from Service fits this month’s action: holding the U.S. government accountable for failing to fulfill its promise to  fund the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

In October, 2010 the U.S. Administration pledged $4 billion over the next three years to the Global Fund. By making the pledge it took on a debt as surely as the musher in Service’s poem. While that pledge represented an increase in funding compared to past years it fell significantly short of the $6 billion that RESULTS and other organizations had been advocating the U.S. to contribute. At the time, to meet the world demand for AIDS, TB, and malaria treatments, the Global Fund would need to have about $18 billion. Since the U.S. comprises one-third of the world economy, it seems fair the U.S. should contribute one-third of the effort. Congress and the Administration supported this view by stipulating that the U.S. would provide up to one-third of the funding for the Global Fund.

Think of a large fire raging along the borders of three cities. To extinguish the fire requires 600 firefighters. Each city needs to contribute 200 firefighters to put out the fire. Due to a lack of understanding and misplaced priorities, however, each city is planning to contribute only 130 firefighters. Meanwhile, each city is actually contributing only 100 firefighters. Obviously, the fire will continue to spread and burn more  buildings.

To put the matter in real terms, download and view the Core Pledges Contributions List provided by the Global Fund. On the Contributions worksheet, the list shows the U.S. pledged $1.05 billion for both 2010 and 2011. In 2010, however, the U.S. contribution was short by $264 million and in 2011 the contribution was short by $423 million. When including all sources of income (both public source like countries and private sources)  since 2001, the donors have an unpaid debt of $2.2 billion on their promises.

Recognizing that $2 billion shortfall caused the Global Fund last month to announce it will suspend making additional grants until 2014. When Joanne Carter, executive director of RESULTS Educational Fund and a former member of the Global Fund Board, learned of the board’s decision, she wrote:

“This unprecedented decision to cancel plans to fund new grants for vital AIDS, TB, and malaria programs until 2014 has led to a crisis in the international response to these three [AIDS, TB, and malaria] global killers. This was a completely avoidable crisis, and it will leave millions of people without access to basic medical care. The terrible paradox is that it is unfolding just as we’ve turned the corner in the global fight against AIDS. The latest scientific evidence proves that treating patients for HIV early reduces the spread of the virus by 96 percent, halting AIDS in its tracks. At the same time, brand new TB diagnostics that can pave the way toward TB elimination have begun rolling off the shelves. And we’re on our way toward eliminating malaria in countries that were previously the most ravaged.

 “It’s in this moment that the Global Fund has been incapacitated by its own donors. It’s as if the Allied Forces have landed in France and are marching into Germany, and the generals have called off the attack. It’s unfathomable. With World AIDS Day rapidly approaching on December 1, all eyes will be on President Barack Obama with the expectation that he’ll announce a historic emergency response that will snap the other donors out of their malaise and put us back on track to defeating AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.”

Shamefully, on December 1, President Obama in a speech at a World AIDS Day event in Washington sidestepped the issue of increased U.S. funding for international AIDS efforts by announcing higher targets of people treated financed by improved efficiencies in the delivery of treatment developed over the years.

Funding Priorities

A few days ago, I watched a show on the U.S. Navy’s newest submarine, the USS Virginia. (Once upon a time, I wanted to be a submariner. Unfortunately, the genes that dictate height sunk that dream as I became too tall for submarine service while still a teenager. I became a scuba diver instead.) The USS Virginia class submarines are designed for post-Cold War conflicts involving the need for covertly delivering SEAL teams and hunting down nearly silent electric powered submarines near shore. I bring this up because at the end of the show, the announcer said the Navy was planning to buy 30 of these submarines.

“Thirty submarines!”, I thought in shock. Why in the world would we need to have 30 of these new submarines? “How much would that cost?”, I wondered. I learned each submarine now costs about $2.3 billion, so the total cost would be about $60 billion–assuming the per submarine cost stays constant.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on the Virginia class submarine:

In December 2008, the Navy signed a $14 billion contract with General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman to supply eight submarines. The contractors will deliver one submarine in each of fiscal 2009 and 2010, and two submarines on each of fiscal 2011, 2012 and 2013.[10] This contract will bring the Navy’s Virginia-class fleet to 18 submarines. And in December 2010, the United States Congress passed a defense authorization bill that expanded production to two subs per year.[11] Two submarine-per-year production resumed on September 2, 2011 with commencement of SSN-787 construction.[12]

So what am I doing talking about submarines in a post about the Global Fund? I’m talking about priorities. In 2009 and 2010, while in the midst of national financial hardship, Congress decided that buying more submarines was of greater value than contributing more funding to the Global Fund. The way I see it, this is like the the city council in one of the cities I talked about above, deciding they need to buy an extra amount of better weapons for their police force rather than pay overtime to keep more firefighters fighting the fire destroying lives and buildings on their city limits.

Oh, I know buying more submarines provides more jobs for U.S. citizens in the shipyards and for all the workers making components for the submarines scattered across the U.S. and probably elsewhere. But I also understand that Congress’ failure to keep the promise President Obama made to the Global Fund will not only cost the lives of those overseas, it will cost the lives of U.S. citizens and billions of dollars when U.S. businessmen, world travelers, immigrants, and servicemen catch diseases overseas and bring them to the U.S. An outbreak of multi-drug resistant TB in New York in the early 1990s forced local and federal governments to spend over $1 billion to contain the outbreak. The cost of not treating AIDS, TB, and malaria overseas also costs the U.S. in lost trade opportunities and increased military spending to deal with failed states.

When there’s not enough money to buy every thing, the decision makers in Congress have to prioritize. Unfortunately, when the decision makers are ignorant or prioritizing their own needs ahead of others, we all suffer. So this Saturday, I’ll attend a RESULTS conference call and on Tuesday lead a letter writing meeting, and somewhere in between work to get information to one of my senators and try to lessen her and her constituents’ ignorance.

Like the musher in Service’s poem, I believe in keeping promises. I also believe it’s my responsibility as a citizen to shame my government accountable when it reneges on its promises and demand that it make good on the debt it incurred when making those promises.

More about the Global Fund

For an excellent overview of the Global Fund and how it operates, see this web page on AVERT’s’ web site. AVERT claims to be the “world’s most popular AIDS web site.” I don’t know if that’s true, but the overview of the Global Fund is quite good. I wish I’d written it myself.